MONTREAL - When news of Max Pacioretty’s offseason knee injury broke, the blow was felt across Habs fans worldwide.
With the captain’s return to the lineup Thursday night, fans can breathe easy knowing the Canadiens will enter the 2015-16 season with a fully healthy lineup. Pacioretty, who made his first appearance since suffering left tibia plateau fractures earlier this summer, looked comfortable in his 15:29 of pain free ice time.
“I felt pretty good. Maybe a little better than I thought. I tried not to air it out so I could have a little bit energy in the third period. I’m pain free,” expressed a satisfied Pacioretty, who is set to start his eighth season as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
One would expect a slow start from a player returning from a significant injury, but the only noticeable difference from last season was the new letter ‘C’ affixed to Pacioretty’s jersey.
“It was a pretty special feeling. Obviously it’s still preseason, but I take a lot of pride in wearing the 'C',” articulated Pacioretty after playing his first game as captain of the Montreal Canadiens. “After I settled down a bit, I got back to playing my game and being myself.”
With No. 67 back in the mix, coach Michel Therrien was able to reunite last season’s trio of Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher, created in an effort to load the top line with high scoring talent. Tabbed to begin the season together, Pacioretty skated with the duo both on the powerplay and during five-on-five action.
It didn’t take long for the captain to leave his mark on the game, finding Nathan Beaulieu sneaking in from the left point with a back door pass labeled for the back of the net. The powerplay marker put the Canadiens up 2-0 in the first period, before the Senators mounted a comeback in the second half of the game, scoring five unanswered goals to post a 5-2 victory.
Impressed with the now-healthy power forward's game Thursday night, Michel Therrien noted that Pacioretty’s main objective was just to get a preseason tilt under his belt before the season begins on October 7.
“The most important thing for him was to play tonight and he accomplished that. I thought that in order to make a comeback a week before we start the season, he needed to go through that process,” explainedTherrien, who cautioned that it will take some time for Pacioretty’s game shape to return to form. “The guys that have been there since day one, their level of conditioning is a bit higher so that’s stage one. But it’s nice to see him back out there.”
As part of his rehab process Pacioretty will sport a knee brace to help ease his return to the lineup.
“I noticed the brace, but as the game goes on, you completely forget it. It’s like anything else, you have to warm up the brace,” noted Pacioretty, who has one remaining preseason game to get used to the brace, but is optimistic about the adjustment process. “At first you might think it’s stiff and you might have to adjust, but the brace gets warm like your body and it starts to feel a little bit natural.”
Though Pacioretty was forced to sit out the last 12 weeks after sustaining the injury, it certainly didn't show based on the way he played against the Sens.
“I thought he played well. It’s always tough your first game [back from injury], the first is always the toughest. No matter how hard you work in the gym and in practice, it’s nothing like a game,” explained alternate captain P.K Subban. “I thought he did very well for his first game back and it’s good to see. We're happy to have him back.”
The Canadiens close out preseason action Saturday night in Ottawa with the second half of a home-and-away series against the Senators on tap in the nation's capital. Despite capturing the Atlantic Division title last season, the Canadiens finished 11th in the NHL in goals scored. Starting the season with their leading scorer for the last four consecutive seasons in the lineup equips the Canadiens with the offensive firepower needed to compete for another division title.
Throughout his NHL career Pacioretty has demonstrated an uncanny ability to quickly recover from significant injuries, earning him the nickname "Wolverine". Whatever Pacioretty’s secret is, it is easy to forget that despite his superhero-like healing ability, even a wolverine’s claws can get rusty.
Jared Ostroff is a writer for canadiens.com.
Game Highlights: Canadiens vs Senators
Main Camp Notebook - September 27
Canadiens reassign nine players to the AHL St. John’s IceCaps
The best of friends